The Importance of Showing Up

Sometimes when I lead funeral services, I provide a time of naming and witness for those who have gathered. It gives people an opportunity to share memories of the deceased, such as their love of playing cards or the way they made Christmas meaningful. Occasionally this time of sharing can go on for a while.

That was the case at a funeral I led this past week. So many people wanted to share memories of their mom, aunt, grandma, and friend that we could have stayed at the funeral home all day listening to the stories and reflections of the 60 people who were there.

One of the last things that was shared was by one of the daughters of the deceased, who said her mom always showed up for everything. Even as her health declined and she didn’t have much energy, she made it to as many of her grandkids activities as she could. She didn’t want to miss making memories.

I think there’s a lesson in that for all of us. What I’ve come to realize over the years is that you can’t make memories if you’re not there. That’s happened to me before – I miss a family gathering due to a scheduling conflict, and I’ll never share the collective memory of that time together.

We can’t be everywhere, and we will always wish we had more time to spend with people we care about. And yes, work and other responsibilities are important and might limit our availability sometimes. But let’s not use that as an excuse. Let’s make it a priority to show up to the places that matter the most: to family gatherings, to the side of a friend in need, or wherever God is calling us to be today. If we don’t remember to show up, we won’t be able to make memories.

Picking Berries

One of the things I love most about this time of year is that my favorite fruit, strawberries, are in season. I eat them at least twice a day, sometimes more, in the spring!

As a child, my mother would sometimes take my sister and me to Trax Farms to pick our own strawberries. I remember one particular year in which she got us out of school early to pick berries in celebration of my sister’s birthday. Getting out of school early was the best reason to go pick berries, followed closely by the chance to enjoy beautiful spring weather and to do something with my hands.

And perhaps that’s all it was for my mother too: a perfect excuse to leave work early and spend time with her 2 children, outdoors, picking basket after basket of delicious strawberries. Half of them would usually be eaten before my father would get home from work, so the harvest didn’t last long enough to be worth it for that reason alone.

I don’t know if it was intentional, but this annual ritual of picking strawberries always reminded me of where my food really came from. It didn’t come from the fridge or pantry, and it didn’t come from the grocery store. Those berries grew on plants rising up from the earth, carefully tended to by workers for months before I’d ever show up to pick them with my little hands. Were it not for those workers, I would never have had delicious strawberries to eat!

As the Israelites of the Old Testament prepared to enter the Promised Land, God told them what was waiting for them there:

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you. (Deuteronomy 8:7-10)

It was a land with abundant food, water, and natural resources. The Israelites would lack nothing. But as they entered, he also gave them this worthy reminder: Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 8:11). Don’t forget where this abundance comes from. Don’t forget who created the flowing waters, and abundant wheat and fruit, and the natural resources below your feet. Remember where your berries come from, God says.

It’s easy to take things for granted, like the food we eat. We seldom stop to think about where it comes from. I do this with most foods, but not with strawberries. When I eat strawberries in May, I never forget where they come from. I always remember that God provides abundantly fresh berries. God created the strawberry plant and the soil, rain, and sun that helps it grow. God created the farmers who plant and care for them until berries form for me to pick. What a blessing of the Lord to have fresh berries in spring!

Christograms

A few of you have asked recently about two symbols featured prominently in our sanctuary. One is the collection of 3 large letters affixed to the front of the altar: IHS. The other is the interlocking X and P in the center of the cross above the altar. Both are Christograms pointing to Christ.

IHS is an abbreviation of the name “Jesus” in Greek. “I” is iota, “H” is eta, and “S” is sigma. iota-eta-sigma are the first three letters of Jesus, and has been used as a Christian symbol since at least the 8th century. It was later used as a Latin acronym for Iesus Hominum Salvator, meaning “Jesus, Savior of humankind.”

The interlocking X and P on our cross is known as the “Chi-Rho symbol.” Like IHS, Chi-Rho is a Christogram using Greek letters. Chi is the first letter of Christ, and Rho is the second letter. The use of the Chi-Rho symbol was first popularized by Constantine in the 4th century, when under his leadership Christianity effectively became the state religion of Rome.

Both IHS and Chi-Rho are used in many Christian churches today to remind us who we worship: Jesus the Christ, Savior of all people.

Thanks to those who asked the questions. What else are you wondering about: parts of worship, items in the sanctuary, the origins of Sunday school, or why we’re called Methodist? Send me an email at erik.hoeke@gmail.com, and I’ll try to answer it in this space and/or elsewhere!

Watch this “Chuck Knows Church” video about IHS